Festigal—Israel’s Commercial Chanukah Production

December 12, 2012 5:43 pm 0 comments

The Festigal is an annual Israeli Hannukah show for kids. Photo: Festigal Facebook page

Israeli parents have a love-hate relationship with Hanukkah. They love the festive atmosphere, the public menorah lightings and sufganiyot (the Israeli doughnut), but schools are closed for nine days while offices and businesses remain open, so there’s a scramble to find ways to keep kids occupied.

Enter the commercialization of Hanukkah in Israel. With winter weather limiting outside activities, the Hanukkah vacation has become the season for an astounding number of performances and events catering to every age group in almost every corner of the country. But few of them have anything to do with the message of Hanukkah.

The granddaddy of them all is the Festigal, a state-of-the-art super sophisticated show featuring the country’s most popular entertainers, that packs 500,000 kids and their parents into more than 100 shows in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa and grosses tens of millions of shekels in revenue per season.

This year’s extravaganza, produced by Stage Design Israel, features 8 LED screens and a revolving stage, designed and shipped over from the prestigious British Kinesys Design Company. “The Israeli market is always keen on new effects,” notes Design Israel’s Eyal Lavie.

Increasingly, Festigal has been criticized for its strong commercial message and high ticket prices. Last year, the Israeli Scouts Movement held demonstrations outside a couple of the performances and circulated an open letter to protest “the values derived from this year’s Festigal, which stand in complete contradiction to our moral principles.”

Each year Festigal adopts a theme, and last year it was Technology in the World, focusing on Facebook and iPhone. Israel Boy and Girl Scouts Federation officials said the implication that every child must own an expensive smartphone sends a “clear and problematic message.” One irate Jerusalem mother told JNS.org, “I would never take my kids to Festigal. I’m opposed to everything it represents, especially the prices.”

Activists in Israel’s summer 2011 social protest movement also voiced objections to the event, citing exorbitant ticket prices. “We parents will not continue to be anyone’s suckers,” said Tali Hayat, a Nes Tziona parent involved in the protests. While a large percentage of the audience gets discounted tickets via workers’ unions and credit card companies, Hayat complains about the 170 NIS ($44) full price ticket. “The cost of entertaining children has now reached hundreds of shekels and without any justification at all.”

It wasn’t always that way. Festigal started as a local show in Haifa in 1980 as a competitor to the popular Israel Children’s Song Festival, a song contest that ran between the early 1970s and 1987. Once the Song Festival died, Festigal began its commercial rise and became the proofing ground for dozens of performers looking for a showcase to gain recognition.

Over the years, cable TV became widespread in Israel and The Children’s Channel morphed into a prime form of entertainment for Israeli kids. Performers on the channel are featured in Festigal and are instantly recognizable to kids from 4-12 years old, the show’s prime target market.

The theme for Festigal 2012 is SpyFestigal (spelled out in English) and includes well-known entertainers such as Shiri Maimon, Asaf Herz, Dana Frider and Ethnix. In the promo video, the stars belt out a Hebrew version of Ricky Martin’s “Livin’ la vida loca.”

“Festigal has nothing to do with Hanukkah,” acknowledges Allison Sommer, a mother of three from Ra’anana who has taken her kids to many Festigals. Sommer explains that the shows have two sections with a break where DVDs and Festigal paraphernalia is on sale. “There’s definitely blatant commercial product placement at Festigal,” Sommer says. “It’s a place for kids who are already exposed to pop culture on TV to see all their favorite performers in one fell swoop.”

Dr. Jeffrey Woolf, a senior lecturer in Talmud at Bar Ilan University and an expert in halakha and modernity, sees the Festigal phenomenon as part of a deliberate move on the part of “certain elements in academia and the Ministry of Education to dejudaize the school curriculum and Israel’s public spaces.”

Woolf says that the Maccabees of the Hanukkah story who resisted Hellenism “are exactly what today’s secular Israeli intellectuals do not want to imitate.” The intellectual elite, according to Woolf, has given up on the idea of Jewish particularism.

Woolf explains that while the secular Zionists who built the country seized on Hanukkah as a role model to fight for freedom and found the historical Hanukkah story inspiring and a way to link Jews to their ideological roots, today the historical and religious significance of the holiday has diminished. “Part of the reason for that is the failure of the religious community to establish a common language with secular Israelis,” he charges.

Ironically, Woolf adds, almost every Israeli today lights a Hanukkia or takes part in a public candle lighting ritual and eats sufganiyot, but the message of the holiday has been lost and supplanted by Festigal-like commercialism.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture US & Canada Israeli Actress Gal Gadot in Talks to Star in Ben-Hur Remake

    Israeli Actress Gal Gadot in Talks to Star in Ben-Hur Remake

    Israeli actress Gal Gadot is in negotiations to take on the female lead role in the remake of the 1959 classic Ben-Hur, according to The Hollywood Reporter. If the deal is finalized Gadot will play Esther, a slave and Ben-Hur’s love interest. Actor Jack Huston will star as the Jewish prince who is betrayed into slavery by his childhood friend Messala, played by Toby Kebbell. Ben-Hur fights for his freedom and vengeance with the help of Morgan Freeman’s character, who trains Ben-Hur how to win at chariot-racing. [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Sports Young Israelis Try to Crowd-Fund Their Way to Major League Baseball Playoffs

    Young Israelis Try to Crowd-Fund Their Way to Major League Baseball Playoffs

    JNS.org – Baseball, hot dogs, and apple pie are the American dream. So why do two young men who have built their lives in Israel have a GoFundMe crowd-funding webpage with the urgent message that they need $3,000 to travel to the U.S. to watch the Kansas City Royals and Baltimore Orioles square off for Major League Baseball’s (MLB) American League championship? Brothers Naftali and Yoni Schwartz, 27 and 25, respectively, are Kansas City natives. Even though they made aliyah with their [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Sports Race Cars Speed Through Jerusalem in Amazing Exhibition

    Race Cars Speed Through Jerusalem in Amazing Exhibition

    Some 3,000 years ago, King David probably never imagined cars racing at 240 kilometers per hour (150 miles per hour) through the ancient capital of the Jewish people. But on Monday and Tuesday, October 6-7, thousands of Israelis lined the streets to watch Porsche, Audi, and Ferrari race cars fly through the capital against the backdrop of the Tower of David, the Old City Walls, and other city landmarks. The second annual non-competitive Jerusalem Formula One Road Show had been [...]

    Read more →
  • Israel Sports NBA Superstar LeBron James Says He Wants to Visit Israel

    NBA Superstar LeBron James Says He Wants to Visit Israel

    Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James expressed interest in visiting Israel someday, local news site Cleveland.com reported on Sunday. Speaking to Israeli reporters before the Cleveland Cavaliers’ preseason debut against Maccabi Tel Aviv, the NBA star said he had never visited the Jewish state but “I want to look forward to going there if I get an opportunity to.” When asked by an Israeli reporter if there was “any chance that LeBron James and Cleveland comes to Tel Aviv,” the athlete said [...]

    Read more →
  • Sports US & Canada Florida Rabbi Dominates Former Basketball Star Congressman in Hoops Showdown (VIDEO)

    Florida Rabbi Dominates Former Basketball Star Congressman in Hoops Showdown (VIDEO)

    A Florida-based Chabad rabbi put former basketball star, U.S. Congressman Curt Clawson to shame on the court when the two faced off one-on-one recently. A YouTube video, posted online on Tuesday, shows Rabbi Fishel Zaklos of Chabad of Naples shooting hoops with the Florida politician, who played basketball in high school and at Purdue University in Indiana. The game took place in the parking lot of the Chabad Jewish center run by Zaklos. During the 1-minute clip, Zaklos scores two impressive [...]

    Read more →
  • Sports US & Canada David Blatt’s Cleveland Cavaliers Rout Maccabi Tel Aviv, 107-80

    David Blatt’s Cleveland Cavaliers Rout Maccabi Tel Aviv, 107-80

    JNS.org – Less than five months after leading Maccabi Tel Aviv to its sixth European basketball title, David Blatt, now the head coach of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers, routed his former team in an exhibition game on Sunday, with the Cavaliers dominating Maccabi 107-80 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. The 20,562 fans in attendance witnessed Lebron James’s first appearance in a Cavaliers uniform since he left the club in free agency for the Miami Heat four years ago. [...]

    Read more →
  • Sports US & Canada Jewish New York Giants Guard Plans to Fast on Yom Kippur

    Jewish New York Giants Guard Plans to Fast on Yom Kippur

    New York Giants offensive guard Geoff Schwartz said on Wednesday that he will not eat anything between sundown Friday and sundown Saturday in observation of Yom Kippur, ESPN reported. “If I was playing, I wouldn’t fast, because I’ve got to be able to fuel myself to play,” said the Jewish athlete, who is on short-term leave due to a toe injury. “But it’s not that tough, really. I’ll eat dinner at 5:00 Friday, then I’ll go to services and I’ll just [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Personalities How a Jewish Leader With 3 Months to Live Created a ‘Seminar’ on Life

    How a Jewish Leader With 3 Months to Live Created a ‘Seminar’ on Life

    JNS.org – What would you do if you found out that you had only three more months to live? Gordon Zacks was a successful businessman, a leader of Jewish life, and a confidante and adviser to President George H.W. Bush. He knew that he had prostate cancer, but doctors advised him that it was very slow-growing and nothing to worry about. Then came the day when the doctors told him his cancer metastasized to his liver, and that he had [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.